Rip-off childcare: Why are we paying so much?
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, Ireland is the second most expensive country in the world for childcare, next to the United States. Childcare has become unaffordable to many parents across Ireland, and it isn’t difficult to see why.
Recent figures have shown that monthly childcare costs can be up to 40% of an average family’s wages-higher than most monthly mortgages. According to the OECD, the average cost of childcare should be approximately 12% of an average family’s wages. So why exactly is Ireland almost three times higher than the average?
This question can be a difficult one to answer. Some claim that the reason Ireland has such high childcare costs is because our tax rate is lower than most EU countries. However, even when benefits, rebates and tax benefits are taken into account, Ireland still has the second highest childcare fees.
The salary of a childcare worker in a crèche averages at just above minimum wage, so we cannot blame colossal wage packages for the reason behind the extremely high cost of childcare. The Irish Independent’s Tom Molloy believes that the rising cost of childcare fees are as a direct result of government policies which have been implemented by all the major parties over the past few decades. However, crèches must set standards to ensure good quality care.
One of the main reasons that crèche fees are so expensive in Ireland is down to the lack of government funding for the private childcare sector. On April 4th this year, a capital funding scheme was announced by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, which allocated €2.5 million for the repair, maintenance and upgrade of community and non-for-profit childcare services.
The CEO of Early Childhood Ireland-a member organisation for those involved with all aspects of childcare- spoke out about the recent capital funding announcement:
‘This scheme is unfair and short sighted, totally ignoring private providers of early childhood care and education in Ireland, who make up 70% of the sector. While we welcome wholeheartedly the €2.5 million allocation for the repair, maintenance and upgrade of community and not-for-profit childcare services, private providers face the very same cost challenge when it comes to repair work and they can’t be expected to fund this work when the money simply isn’t there.’
‘A scheme which only looks after parent and toddler groups, childminders and community services, ignores the rest of those hard working professionals holding up this sector. It just doesn’t make sense economically or morally and we’ve received many complaints overnight.’
This can give us an insight into the reasons why private childcare sectors must charge such astonishingly high fees. The government have implemented some strategies to help families on a lower income; however, these schemes contain a number of flaws.
For those just above what the government deems to be ‘the breadline’ , there is little or no state assistance to encourage parents to go back to work after having children, and it seems it is the single parents who suffer most.
Most families around Ireland who work outside of the home rely on grandparents and other family members to take on the task of childminding. Childcare fees are too expensive for those who take home just an average monthly pay cheque. It is not just the cost of a place in a crèche that seems out of reach, childminders and preschools are also wildly expensive.
For a lot of people, however, help from family members isn’t available which leaves many parents being forced to stay at home and claim social welfare rather than seeking a job. This is not because they cannot find work or are unskilled in any way-many parents have more than enough qualifications. However, with monthly childcare fees reigning in at an average of €1,100 per month, it is no wonder why parents find themselves at the back of the dole queue.
Less than a third of children under the age of three in Ireland are enrolled in childcare institutions. This is an extremely low figure when compared with 50% in France. Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland are the only countries where the cost of childcare reduced earning further.
For families on a low income, government assistance can be available-though sometimes very difficult to obtain. Lone parents and families whose income falls below around €23’800 per annum will be entitled to avail of the Community Childcare Scheme (CCS). With this scheme, a family with a low income is entitled to receive a subvention for a maximum of five hours per day, or two and a half days per week in childcare.
As a result of this, childcare fees are halved. When they should have cost 1’000 per month, families would now pay just €550. Parents who also return to state run FAS courses can also avail of subsidised childcare, whilst still receiving a portion of their jobseekers allowance.
However, while the subvention scheme is no doubt an incomparable help to many families across Ireland, the problem lies elsewhere. For parents who wish to return to obtain a degree from an I.T or a University, there is absolutely no government assistance for childcare available to them. As well as this, young parents under the age of 23 who don’t qualify as a mature student are not entitled to any government assistance to help with college fees, let alone the price of full time childcare.
One Parent Family Payment is available to single parents who wish to return to education; however, at €215.00 per week, this would barely cover the costs of raising a child, let alone covering ever rising costs of third level education.
Grants these days, as many students are fully aware, are impossible to come by, and if they are given out, they often delayed for long periods leaving many in the dark as to what will happen next.
The government are forever encouraging young people in Ireland to seek work, and schemes such as Job-Bridge have been implanted to help here. However, the government have failed to realise that many employers will seek more than a FAS course on a C.V when considering taking someone on.
Childcare costs in Ireland do not allow parents to further their education and skills unless they have both the financial and emotional support of a partner or other family members. Many single parents across Ireland will understand that isn’t always the case and for many, returning to university won’t be an option for a very long time.
Rising childcare fees also affect parents returning to work after maternity leave. Currently, maternity leave in Ireland, though not fantastic for fathers, is quite accommodating for mothers in Ireland. As it stands, women are able to take six months paid leave and another six unpaid if they wish. However, when it comes to returning to the workplace, many women find that they do not have one thousand or so euro to fork out for childcare fees each month, and as a result, are forced to stay at home.
Returning to work is not possible unless some schemes are implemented to help ease the cost childcare fees that are crippling many family’s bank accounts.
In a recent study done by the Donegal Childcare Committee, they found that nearly 26% of parents with children at nine months said that difficulties with childcare prevented them from looking for a job or training, or made them leave employment. The study also found that 56% of families on a low income said that childcare costs prevented them from looking for a job.
Many lobbying groups in Ireland have called for tax breaks or some government assistance to help parents who wish to return to work or education. The State has failed parents in this sense, and not just those on low incomes-even those earning a moderate annual salary would find it extremely difficult to keep up with childcare payments. Childcare should be made accessible to every parent across Ireland, regardless of their financial situation.